Is Iowa Poised for a Rebound?
One of the seemingly more hopeless teams in the Big Ten toward the end of last season was Iowa. Not only had the Hawkeyes gone 4-8 (2-6 in conference), but they were about to lose their quarterback to graduation along with some of their other better players (all-conference cornerback Micah Hyde, 2nd team all conference center James Ferentz, honorable mention all conference left tackle Matt Tobin and defensive end Joe Gaglione). Their new schedule got tougher with a trip to Ohio State and a home stand with Wisconsin (versus games with Penn State and Indiana the past two years). Their latest recruiting class was ranked among the lowest in the Big Ten. So where do you find hope if you're an Iowa fan?
Phil Steele looks at a number of indicators before making his season forecasts. One of them is what he calls his "Stock Market Indicator". He compares last year's win-loss record to the two seasons that preceded it. When last year's record is very different from the prior two seasons, that can be an indication that things may be about to change. Statisticians often refer to this phenomenon as "regression to the mean". Iowa's decline of 3.5 games in 2012 from the 7.5 win average in the 2010-2011 seasons would suggest a strong likelihood that the Hawkeyes win at least five games this year.
Healthy Running Backs?
One of the funnier college football memes that's arisen in recent years is the "Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God" or AIRBHG coined by the Black Heart Gold Pants Blog heading into the 2010 season. Iowa responded to a particularly painful beating at the hands of the rushing deity in 2012 by signing three running backs to last season's recruiting class. None of these guys were that highly rated, but considering how thin they became at the position, it still beats walk-ons.
But That Schedule
They open at home against a Northern Illinois team that went 12-2 a year ago, that brings back a star quarterback (though the Hawkeyes did eke out a victory over the Huskies at Soldier Field a year ago). They travel to Iowa State to face a team that beat them in Iowa City a year ago with a rising star at quarterback. Their easiest conference games are at Minnesota and at Purdue, two teams they split with a year ago. Iowa will probably be the underdog hosting Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Wisconsin and at Ohio State and Nebraska. They did score an upset in East Lansing against the Spartans a year ago. Then again, Phil Steele's Stock Market Indicator points more strongly to a MSU improvement than an Iowa one.
It's hard to see dramatic improvement for the Hawkeyes in 2013. But one or two well-placed upsets could get them to five wins or even allow them to sneak into a bowl. Topping the two-win mark in the conference will be a challenge though. Steele's Stock Market Indicator isn't fullproof. Three or fewer total wins wouldn't be entirely shocking either.